Sunday, November 11, 2007



Haiti is surprisingly calm… for the moment. I’ve had the chance to move around in Port-au-Prince way more than I thought I would in my first week here. When I was first planning to come to Haiti, I looked at teaching in a school outside of the capital. The rule: staff does not leave the walled compound that is the school. That’s when I let go of that idea.

Only a couple of things so far have surprised me. Open sewage running in streets and piles of garbage—expecting it. But one of my first surprises was the confidence with which some of my fellow blans move around the city. Their comment to me, “it has improved here so much since this time a year ago.” My roommate of the first week was an older American who’d spent 13 months here and managed to learn virtually no Creole. My first week here was her last week, so I got invited to a lot of farewell festivities. Dinner out in Petionville (the nicest part of town where all the foreigners but me live), dinner at a co-workers house, taking the neighbors’ kids to school on the other side of town, (although I have to admit I still have very little sense of the town. Most streets aren’t marked and directions resemble, “turn left at the big hole in the road… oh wait, that hole got filled in, mmm…) grocery shopping with co-workers, dinner at another co-workers house, a trip down to Cite Soleil, and the Saturday market with my Cameroonian neighbor this morning…

A few spots have pushed my comfort zones, but as someone put it to me here, “Fear breeds fear.” At this time a year ago, no one was outside past dark, period. The streets are teeming now at most all hours, and another blan colleague of mine said she was out on the Champ du Mars (big open plaza by the Presidential Palace, very near my apartment) drinking until 3am one night, and the place was packed. Kidnapping apparently hit its peak last December, and although it does still happen, the UN has cracked down hard, and the Haitians are welcoming the relative tranquility. Just like they are heartily welcoming traffic lights, which apparently only beat me to Port-au-Prince by about two months...

The other surprises

On Wednesday morning Cite Soleil, the notorious slum in Port-au-Prince said to be one of the most dangerous in our hemisphere, was tranquil, quiet. I went with a couple colleagues to check out a bakery some folks affiliated with Fonkoze are financing. One of the people I was with is Fonkoze’s Education Director. You can just tell what a way this man has with the boys in this neighborhood. When we got to the bakery a flock of young Haitians came around, the littlest hugged and clung to him, and he greeted them with a smile and twisting their noses. My first site of the bakery was a young man taking a bath in front of it, standing in his shorts covered in lather, a bucket of water and a cup in front of him on the ground. The bakery itself surprised me. It’s the only one in existence in Cite Soleil, population roughly 300,000. It’s two tiny unlit rooms, one room including a small gas-powered oven and a stove that you could find in any kitchen in the US. The other room had makeshift tables, and the flour and ingredients were stored in a closet in the back. My point—it could have been any kitchen in the US, without even the added bonus of electricity. I wasn’t expecting Parisian style pastries under glass display cases, but the simplicity of this place hit home. Of the roughly 20 boys who gathered in the tiny space, they all could have been in school… if they could have afforded it. There is a free school in PAP, but it’s on the other side of town. Even the tap-tap to get there and back, 20 cents each way, was too expensive for most.

A last note on Cite Soleil— The Haitians call American hand-me-down clothing “Kennedies. As we walked out of the Cite I saw a Haitian girl roughly my age wearing a bright purple t-shirt with an orange “Clemson” emblazoned across it. My guess is 99% of Clemson has never heard of Cite Soleil, and not a soul in the Cite knows what Clemson is. I smiled to myself and kept walking.


No comments: